by Karen Plourde
— Part two
In 2008 and 2009, Build a Bridge, the Germantown-based 18-year-old nonprofit which has worked to resolve conflicts and rebuild ravaged communities both in the U.S. and abroad, found a way to teach financial planning skills to women in the shelters through the Money News Network. With funding from the American Express Foundation, they engaged professional actors and playwrights to create a TV network made up of a news show, a game show and a soap opera.
The shows were sprinkled with scenarios and tips for how the residents could budget their money. As part of the program, Hudson United Bank cleaned the financial records of the women, opened accounts for direct deposit for them and added money to the accounts. After Hudson United was acquired by TD Bank, that part of the program was taken on by Citizens Bank.
About four years ago, BuildaBridge began working with refugee populations in the city in concert with Nationalities Service Center. As part of the center’s refugee employment and advancement program, they were part of an English as a Second Language (ESL) class once a week, and used drama to practice different social situations such as what to say when you have to call the doctor or how to go through a job interview.
Last year, two BuildaBridge artists worked with refugee elders who were survivors of trauma from Bhutan through the NSC to create a tapestry that told the story of their experiences. The tapestry is now displayed outside the Mayor’s Office in City Hall; it’s part of an exhibit of artwork that refugees have done in art therapy groups run by BuildaBridge. The exhibit is available for public viewing there until Oct. 10. After that, the tapestry will be returned to the Nationalities Service Center.
Twice a month, BuildaBridge works with the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, an offshoot of the NSC, to staff an art therapy group for their clients who are survivors of torture. Zainab Alsawaf, a case manager for the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, said several of her clients regularly attend the group sessions.
“I have one client who said it’s really nice how they bridge between the experience (they) had back home with art,” Alsawaf said. “Although they haven’t had any art experience before or don’t know how to draw well…they find it a very nice way to connect it with their own experience and have someone to discuss this with them.”
Julie Rosen, one of the artists who worked on the Bhutanese tapestry, has been a teaching artist with BuildaBridge for five years. She’s worked mostly in shelters and with Artology, BuildaBridge’s summer program for children. The program was shelved this past summer due to a funding issue. Rosen, who lives in Germantown, said she was impressed with the amount of training BuildaBridge requires from their artists.
For a week this summer, BuildaBridge took five of their teaching artists to Israel and conducted an eco-art camp with 30 Bedouin children at a local school. They taught the children the importance of recycling and using recycled materials through music, visual arts and gardening.
For the fall, Nix-Early said there are plans for BuildaBridge to do after-school programs in all three shelters run by Women Against Abuse — Ameya’s Place, Carol’s Place and Sojourner House. In addition, Episcopal Community Services is looking for the group to provide arts education for them during the school year. There are also talks underway with teachers from Stetson Middle School in Kensington to work with their most at-risk students.
These initiatives and any others that come BuildaBridge’s way need funding to get them beyond the talking and planning stages. For the first 10-12 years of its existence, the group depended on grants and still uses them to subsidize its work. They also get some support from individual giving. At times, they’ve dipped into the vat of corporate funding, with some hesitation.
Clearly, Build a Bridge takes up a lot of Corbitt and Nix-Early’s time, all of it unpaid. Corbitt, 64, estimates he volunteers about 30 hours a week to the group. He’s still a full professor of cross-cultural studies at Eastern, and directs the community arts concentration in their Masters degree in urban studies program. Nix-Early is retired from academia, but gets some income as a clinical supervisor to the NSC’s refugee project.
“I think this is a part of my own passion for working in the world, and that is to see the world as a better place,” Corbitt said. “Having lived in areas of extreme poverty, I realize just how fortunate I am personally and that we have a responsibility to really give back in the best way we can.”
BuildaBridge is located at 205 W. Tulpehocken St. For more information, call 215-842-0428 or visit buildabridge.org